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ROBINSON: Why the chill on climate change?

Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson

WASHINGTON -- Not a word has been said in the presidential debates about what may be the most urgent and consequential issue in the world: climate change.

President Obama understands and accepts the scientific consensus that the burning of fossil fuels is trapping heat in the atmosphere, with potentially catastrophic long-term effects. Mitt Romney's view, as on many issues, is pure quicksilver -- impossible to pin down -- but when he was governor of Massachusetts, climate change activists considered him enlightened and effective.

Yet neither has mentioned the subject in the debates. Instead, they have argued over who is more eager to extract ever-larger quantities of oil, natural gas and coal from beneath our purple mountains' majesties and fruited plains.

"We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years," Obama said in Tuesday's debate. "Natural gas production is the highest it's been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment."

Romney scoffed that Obama "has not been Mr. Oil, or Mr. Gas, or Mr. Coal," and promised that he, if elected, would be all three. "I'll do it by more drilling, more permits and licenses," he said, adding later that this means "bringing in a pipeline of oil from Canada, taking advantage of the oil and coal we have here, drilling offshore in Alaska, drilling offshore in Virginia, where the people want it."

If this is a contest to see who can pretend to be more ignorant of the environmental freight train that's barreling down the tracks toward us, Romney wins narrowly.

Obama does acknowledge that his administration has invested in alternative energy technologies, such as wind and solar, that do not emit carbon dioxide and thus do not contribute to atmospheric warming. But he never really says why, except to say he will not "cede those jobs of the future" to other nations such as China and Germany.

Romney, on the other hand, claims to pledge heart and soul to an idea that he, as a successful businessman, must know is ridiculous: "North American energy independence." The notion seems to be that all the oil and natural gas we need can be produced in the United States, Canada and Mexico, and that achieving this continental "independence" will magically cause energy prices to fall.

This is silly. At current production levels, relying solely on good old "North American" oil would leave us more than 30 percent short of what we now consume, and no amount of drilling and despoiling could close that gap. Moreover, the price of oil is a global price -- a barrel costs the same whether it's extracted in North Dakota or the North Sea.

Natural gas is harder to transport over long distances, which means the price is more local. But we're already moving faster than prudence would advise -- through the technology of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" -- to pump huge quantities of natural gas, and the price is already quite low.

As for coal, Romney was once more of an environmentalist than Obama; as the president noted Tuesday, Romney once stood in front of the Salem Harbor coal-fired plant in Massachusetts and said, "I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant -- that plant kills people." Now, however, Romney says he is ardently pro-coal and claims that Obama isn't.

But Obama has long been a champion of so-called "clean coal" technology, which many environmentalists believe is an oxymoron. From the point of view of limiting carbon emissions, burning more coal is the worst thing you could do.

Why does it matter that nobody is talking about climate change? Because if you accept that climate scientists are right about the warming of the atmosphere -- as Obama does, and Romney basically seems to as well -- then you understand that some big decisions will have to be made. You also understand that while there are some measures the United States could take unilaterally, carbon dioxide can never been controlled without the cooperation of other big emitters such as China, India and Brazil. You understand that this is an issue with complicated implications for global prosperity and security.

A presidential campaign offers an opportunity to educate and engage the American people in the decisions that climate change will force us to make. Unfortunately, Obama and Romney have chosen to see this more as an opportunity to pretend that the light at the end of the tunnel is not an approaching train.

Eugene Robinson is an associate editor and columnist for The Washington Post. Email him at eugenerobinson@washpost.com. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/eugenerobinson.

Comments

notblind 1 year, 10 months ago

Until we hold ALL our trading partners to the same high standards we hold ourselves then the whole 'global warming' issue is just another knife in the back of American industry. When the air over Seattle has significant amounts of pollutants [including mercury] that originate in China I don't see how we can effect much global change while crippling our own industry [ and tax base ] here in the US.

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Say_that_again 1 year, 10 months ago

So, I take it that you do not believe the USA should not be a leader! What a strange opinion!

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notblind 1 year, 10 months ago

Leadership could also mean requiring all imports to be from low emission factories. This would give American industry an equal playing field. My first sentence in the first post implied this. How did you miss it ?

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FordGalaxy 1 year, 10 months ago

No, the US should be a leader, but not at the expense of our economy and our people. Look, climate change happens. It would happen whether humans were on Earth or not. The sun goes through cycles. Ice caps melt and then freeze. Places that are now deserts were once lush savannas. It's still going on.


So to think we can stop it by stomping down the American economy is a fallacious argument. There are some people on the left who seem to think we can lower the Earth's temperature if we simply took money from first world countries and gave it to third world countries. You're not going to stop whatever anthropogenic climate change exists if you don't hold all natios to the same standards. But my perspective lately has been that already developed nations, like the US, Canada, and Australia, are held to a different standard than industrially developing nations like India, and parts of China.


Also, since this is a Robinson column..." Oh noes...Obama is trailing in some polls and the Democrats haven't looked all that great in the debates...quick, bring up something that could scare the pants off the uninformed....uh, Climate change!"

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kevin 1 year, 10 months ago

Obama was smart. He knew if he mentioned it, Romney would have torn him apart. The Earth warms itself naturally. This in not a man-made problem. The Earth has its freezing periods and its warmer periods. Even if the pundits think this is man-made, the Earth will find a way to correct itself, it always does. Just look at all the catastrophes in the world. You can't stop nature from regrowing itself. On the next point, this debate was a "town hall debate in which the questions only came from the audience. I guess they all felt that the "economy" was the biggest issue, something Obama has failed in pitifully. Of course a Liberal would bring up something like global warming to take the heat off Obama. They can't bring up the economy!! You put your foot in your mouth again MR. Robinson!

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notblind 1 year, 10 months ago

It's an election year. Of course the world is heating up.

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Say_that_again 1 year, 10 months ago

I appreciate your humor, notblind, Now you can put your blinders back on. It is no wonder that the US is loosing the education battle when people continue to claim that science is false. The science of climate change is consistent with the increase speed of the changes. Climate change scientists predicted the increase of droughts in some areas and increase flooding in others. They have clearly laid out the data which shows that, in the current global warming trend, man is a major influence on the problem. In past millenniums, rapid climate change has occurred because of the numerous active volcanoes. Now, most of those volcanoes are silent and the active ones are spewing less into the atmosphere. As for the absurd, "we can't afford it" argument, many things will save money. If a car is built more efficient, it may have a greater initial cost, but that will be offset with lower gas costs over the life of the vehicle. Currently, high cost SUV's and trucks are not required to have pollution controls. That loophole should be closed. If we stop the special tax breaks and subsidies to oil companies, it would level the field for alternate energy and save the government $billions.

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notblind 1 year, 10 months ago

You are brainwashed.

Also, there is no new gasoline fueled car or truck sold in America today that doesn't have a full complement of emission controls. More brainwashing.

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Say_that_again 1 year, 10 months ago

My apologies. I was going on old information. It is true that now SUVs and light trucks are required to pass emission standards. Still, the better MPG a vehicle gets, the lower emissions produced per mile of travel. To put this in easier terms to follow. A mini van that gets around 28 mpg pollutes considerably less than an SUV that gets 20 mpg and yet the mini van will carry at least as much cargo or passengers, and probably a lower retail price.

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gwinnettisgreat1 1 year, 10 months ago

Global warming is a joke. Some scientist think we are entering a mini ice age.

http://digitaljournal.com/article/307985

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Say_that_again 1 year, 10 months ago

And the article you cite says "...may contribute to climate change". It never says that the information we have demonstrating that man made pollution is speeding up climate change is false. Do you also believe that Earth is the center of the universe? Maybe you have even been convinced the earth is flat!

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Why_not 1 year, 10 months ago

We have a Congressman, (Paul Broun) that still thinks the earth is only 9,000 years old and he is on the Congressional Science Committee.....we are screwed.

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gwinnettisgreat1 1 year, 10 months ago

I have some Y3K supplies I would like to sell you along with some Hurricane proof swamp land in Louisiana. You sound like you will buy anything. Infomercials in the middle of the night love your kind. You need to look at how much evidence is put forth by many scientist about how this is "global warming" maybe the single biggest fraud game EVER. Al Gore thanks you.

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